Monday, March 13, 2023

And The Oscar Went To…

I continued my tradition of not watching the Oscars, so I was interested to see that it was, according to the news reports, an ordinary night at least in terms of headlines.  Nobody got slapped, nobody streaked, no one refused to accept the award, and most of the speculators about who would win got it right.  I’m very happy to see people get their recognition, and if it matters to them and their career, then that’s great.  A sincere and heartfelt congratulations to them.

Not that it matters to them or to anyone else, but I’m lukewarm about awards for artistic expression.  I’m not being a snob about it; I’ve won a couple of awards for my playwriting, and I am very honored by them.  But I also think that it’s very hard to judge one piece over the other when they are by definition very different in so many ways that it makes you wonder where they find common ground to decide that one film is better than the other.  Even in the acting category, how do you determine that one performance in a film is better than the others in other films?  I’m glad I’m not a voter at the Motion Picture Academy, or for the Tonys, for that matter.  Judging a theatrical performance is even more enigmatic; at least on film you have the performance that doesn’t change from showing to showing.  On stage, any number of things can turn a great play into a bad night for the actors and the audience.  How can you take that into consideration when you’re asked to vote for the “best”?  Obviously some people can, and do, but I don’t know if I could.

I’ve learned over the past forty-five years or so that most good playwrights are not a competitive bunch.  My experience at various festivals and conferences has been one of supporting my fellow writers, listening to what they have to say, and learning from their stories.  I don’t know if it’s like that in film; I’ve never been involved in that industry.  Maybe because playwriting isn’t about making money, whereas the movies are pretty much all about the dollars; that’s why they call it an industry; it’s a factory-produced product.  That doesn’t mean it can’t have heart and genuine meaning in its artistry, but the bottom line on movies is the bottom line.  Theatre, on the other hand, hopes to be about the art above all, often to the point that some in the business are suspicious of theatre companies that make a huge profit… or any profit, for that matter.  In my life I’ve seen some of the best theatre in venues that had trouble rubbing two dimes together.  That’s not how you judge good work.

There’s no assurance in artistic expression, no promise of a fortune or even a payday.  But I believe that most artists, be they painters or writers or musicians or glassblowers, don’t do it for the money.  As the immortal caricaturist Al Hirschfeld noted, “Making art is not about making money.  If you want to make money, open a delicatessen.”  Theatre companies come and go, playwrights have day jobs, and yet we still persist in writing.  Every other writer or actor has their reasons; their need for doing what they do.  In my case, as I’ve often said, it’s therapeutic: it’s cheaper than therapy and doesn’t damage my liver.

So, congratulations to those of you who won, be it an Oscar or just a pat on the back from your fellow artists.  Now, get back to work.


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